For well over a decade the Internet has been for the most part open, beyond control and censorship for the majority of people in the world. In the last few years the success of the restrictive practices imposed by countries like China and Iran seem to have been a huge inspiration to western telcos. The owners of the physical infrastructure of communications have been quietly mounting an all out assault on net neutrality. With CEO’s of major cable companies openly describing neutrality as “bollocks”, the governments of at least the USA and GB are making them feel very confident of winning.
By contrast the mobile phone industry ten years ago was a very closed club of companies that had successfully won licenses for the 2G networks. Then came the 3G licensing round and most commentators thought that bids necessary to win were astronomical and would bankrupt the companies involved. Fortunately there has been enough revenue around for the networks to flourish. The HSDPA/HSUPA services now available from some providers are nothing short of brilliance. The technologies mooted for 4G services could very well make the physical Internet connection redundant and usher in a world of infinite digital possibilities.
So we get to the openness. While the fixed line telcos take a shot gun to their feet. The movement towards opening up existing wireless networks, more spectrum, and the devices that connect us to it, gathers greater momentum. We could soon be approaching a critical mass for openness, will the networks open up to allow new services autonomy in what they can deliver to users? Operating Systems like Android and LiMo and the newly opened Symbian promise applications unprecedented access to the technology in handsets. The freedoms afforded by unrestricted access to data networks for information and self expression are now fundamental to human rights. Allowing users complete freedom to choose and use the apps, services, connectivity they want on the device in their pocket is, in my view, the essence of the Future of Mobile.
This is a simplified version of the rationalle I have been working with to programme this years FOM conference. Increasing openness is certain to generate a whole host of issues that will challenge everyone in the mobile ecosystem. My hope is that this years event will identify the most important issues and inspire progress in the development of solutions. The two panels on OS and Network openness will no doubt provide lively debate. The speakers will be providing a global view on where the mobile industry is headed. I’m hoping it is heading to a place where I can have complete freedom to consume content and connect with any community for an entirely reasonable subscription fee.